Dir: Patrick Lussier
I was going to write about the Nicolas Cage film Drive Angry (2011), since it was recently released on DVD in the UK, as a full review but it is not worth it. I feel I should post as much as possible, but the lack of interest even in a negative way for the film makes it difficult to continue discussing it unless I post it in this way instead.
It all went wrong the moment - when the film starts and a CGI car slams through the gates of an inflamed, CGI necropolis of Hell - the voiceover starts using the phrase ‘bad ass motherfucker’ in a serious way that is also supposed to sound ‘cool’ to the viewer’s ears. My heart sank and nothing in the film for the whole 100 minutes was able to raise it. The use of the phrase caught me onto the issue with the film immediately – it tries so hard to be exploitative, with its swearing, nudity and luridness, but it felt like a cynical attempt to amplify these aspects with no sincerity to it. There have been many other films including those made merely for money – from Takashi Miike to Neveldine/Taylor – which for any flaws they have had the virtue of sincerity to their sleaze and transgressions. It felt legitimate and fitting for their stories (or lack thereof). Sincerity in the copious gore and adult content in a film improves its qualities; it feels not only rawer, but can be used to craft said exploitation into an artistic power as well. Sincere mature films tend to also be legitimately insane and bizarre, which Drive Angry attempts to be as well and fails to, which is why one-off films like Ichi the Killer (2001) and Crank: High Voltage (2009) have their audiences while the likes of Drive Angry may not. (It’s fitting for this thought of mine that it is a Nicolas Cage film too; no matter how ridiculous his acting or hair piece is, it cannot compare to his performances in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart (1990), or even something like Con Air (1997), where there is a sincerity to his weird pronunciations or visual appearance, whether the director pushes him in that direction or, unlike Drive Angry, he is doing it unintentionally and not trying to hard too mug for the camera). Drive Angry slips into an admirable but failed group of films spearheaded by Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007) and Robert Rodriquez’s Planet Terror (2007) [I haven’t seen the original Grindhouse (2007) yet] which attempted to replicate the exploitation films of the 1970s and 80s but felt for me over priced in terms of budget and hollow. (Some may argue that the Kill Bill films may be the first films to do this, which may be true, but the amount of filmic influences on them from different time periods and styles causes this to be questionable too. I also loved the first one). Since Grindhouse, despite its failure at the American box office, there has been at least a more pronounced amount of films like Drive Angry which attempt to celebrate their influences by acting like them. The problem with Drive Angry sadly is that it is trying to be a ‘sincere’ in its exploitation synthetically, trying to play up a sleaziness than just going forward in its plot as a sleazy film. Even though they were sold on sex and violence, these aspects were not at the forefront of the many older films I’ve seen but merely an additional decoration to them to sell cinema tickets. The Jack Hill film The Big Bird Cage (1972) for example is concern with giving the viewer nudity and attractive women firing machine guns, but it is not consumed in trying to make it look edgy to the viewer and is more wrapped up in its women in prison plot in the jungle. Drive Angry on the other hand spends all its time trying to make itself look legitimate as an exploitation film, all the while compromising itself. There is also a sense that, for all its grandeurs of sinking into the gutter, it suffers from a political correctness streak that causes it to sit on the fence and become cinematically inept as a result. The best (worst?) example of this is with the main female actress Amber Heard. Not only is she completely sexless for a female character, both in a film with no issues in having other actresses do full nude scenes and in terms of being a female character with no sense of charismatic beauty to her, looking like a plastic doll in baggy clothing on screen, but the film’s attempts to make her a strong character is actually far more offensive than to have had the actress parade naked on screen like the others. Political correctness is a truly dangerous concept because, instead of tackling the real issues of gender and race in humanity’s psyche, it sidesteps them and compromises in a way that is mechanical, and artistically and intellectually bankrupt. Exploitation films and transgressive cinema can only start to succeed if it either enters the sewers of the human mind or/and is subversive; if the writers of this film really wanted to have a strong female lead, they needed to write a real human being within a genre film than have Heard swearing like a sailor and punching other women. I could go on about the other actors and aspects of the film but to honest I feel that all of my problems have been expresses in what I have already typed, encroached by my complete disinterest in the film.
This sense of compromise exists throughout the film and makes it difficult to sympathise with films like this. If this is the best of these sorts of films Hollywood can up with, then we should stick with the one-off directors or the journey men and women - the later going into (economically) commercial cinema and ending up with a cult film or two in their filmographies - to provide interesting exploitation cinema instead of forcing them into creation. Whenever there are attempts to artificially create certain aspects of film within the medium of cinema, it usually fails, and it does even more so with something as ‘vague’ as the cult or exploitation film which is effected by the environment and time it was made in, and the multiple factors surrounding its creation and its viewing. Something like Drive Angry is just a dull and sanitised attempt at these sorts of films which failed miserably in the first minute of its runtime.